If you need something to brighten your day, Ken Wong’s Hackycat may be the best Valentine’s Day present you could give or receive.
I grew up in the same city as Ken Wong (I took advantage of an interview opportunity to ask him which school he went to, something everyone from Adelaide is obsessed with), which makes me feel like I too could live the fairy story his career reads like: drew some fan art, got a job with American McGee. Now, having left Spicy Horse, Wong is chasing a new every-man ambition, to conquer the mobile scene with his very first game, Hackycat, which arrived on the App Store today for the local equivalent of $1.
It’s Valentine’s Day, as it happens, a day when geeks like us are supposed to be sobbing into our pillows over our lack of dates despite the fact that a growing proportion of us are married with a handful of sprogs eating into our fragging time, or studly serial monogamists. On the off chance you will be doing the woe-is-me thing, what better way to vent your frustration than by kicking cats?
Yes. Kicking cats, the Intenet’s darling. Hackycat hasn’t gone down well with everyone despite its charmingly innocent debut trailer.
“I expected negative reactions from the start, and yeah, they’ve been trickling in. I’m trying to be careful about how I respond,” Wong said.
“It’s interesting because in film and music and literature, we’re accustomed to confronting, absurdist and exploratory work. In the context of Road Runner, Happy Tree Friends and South Park, I don’t think Hackycat is so shocking. Why is slingshotting birds into glass houses to kill pigs less controversial? I’m interested to see how the negative reaction compares to that of a people-killing simulator, like Call of Duty.”
The cats in Hackycat almost seem to be enjoying their gentle bouncing around the screen, although I’m unsure how much the enjoy their journeys into the stratosphere when the player chooses to clear a few off the screen. They still seem happier than, for example, D. Claude, one of the happier cast members of Team Meat’s cat breeding sim, Mew-Genics, a game Wong says “looks wonderful”.
“I think if you look Mew-Genics at the context of Edmund McMillen’s oeuvre this latest game is probably on tame end of the scale. I’m really glad I’m releasing before Mew-Genics comes out, so I don’t get accused of copycatting,” he added.
It’s a major sideways jump from lead artist in a large team to solo app developer. If you’re interested in indie development it probably helps to have a background in triple-A, but platforms like the App Store mean anyone can have a go at the Next big Thing. Wong recommends this post by The Game Bakers, which he said summarised “a lot of helpful statistics and perspectives”.
I am unsure if this was a serious concern or an excuse to make a pun. Hackycat is prime material for some purr-fectly dreadful puns (see?) and assuming iDevice users embrace its callous treatment of the unofficial official animal of the Internet, Wong could more than recoup his investment, which was substantial. Although Hackycat looks simple (and adorable), it took a whole year to make – four times Wong’s original estimation. But even if Wong’s sitting on a viral hit, he has modest ambitions.
“I always tell people there’s mobile games, and then there’s Angry Birds. It’s so far off the charts that it’s basically it’s own category. I was more inspired by Andreas Illiger, creator of Tiny Wings. With all his success, he just treated himself to a new computer,” Wong said.
“Jon Blow, creator of Braid, went on to found Indie Fund. Edmund McMillen bought his wife a hairless cat. If I make it big I’d like to buy my dad a new car, if he wants one. And then fund myself and a few friends to create interesting games without the pressure of financial success.”
Comfortable dreams; the kind you can hitch to a game about saving adorable cats from explosion by punting them skywards.